To wear your heart on your sleeve

Example in use: “She’s such an emotional person and really wears her heart on her sleeve. It’s easy to see that she’s upset about the direction of this project.”

Meaning: to show your emotions and not hide them, to expose your vulnerability

Possible German equivalent: das Herz auf der Zunge haben

Possible origin: As with so many idioms, it is unclear what the exact origin of this idiom is, but many sources suggest it could have its source in the middle ages.

In medieval times, knights would appear in jousting (tjostieren) competitions. They would sometimes be fighting to defend the honour of a lady who was watching the competition, or he might have been courting her. He would ask this particular lady to give him a ribbon or a small length of cloth that he would then tie to his arm. The love or affection he held for the lady would then be clear for everyone to see.

However, once again, the form in use today appears to have been first coined and recorded in print by Shakespeare in Othello from 1604. Iago states his plan to fool those around him by pretending to be softer and more vulnerable than he really is:


“…For when my outward action doth demonstrate

The native act and figure of my heart

In compliment extern, 'tis not long after

But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve

For daws to peck at: I am not what I am.”


We are not clear if Shakespeare himself created the phrase out of the common practice carried out by the knights or if it had entered common spoken use by this time.

Regardless, if you want to be a good card player, it’s best not to wear your heart on your sleeve or you’ll give your hand away every time!

sleeve / sliːv


Welcome again to our weekly series that hopes to go behind the scenes of some rather typical English expressions.